It seems there is no good answer to the school bus schedules Bladen County is forced to use.
Thankfully, far fewer children get on buses two or more hours before opening bell-and conversely, off two or more hours after closing bell-than it appeared after schedules were published in a special section of the Journal a couple of weeks ago. Turns out there were some typographical errors, and some uncorrected revisions, in the published version of the schedule.
Still, school bus schedules can be tough on our Bladen children and their parents. It's a big county with a small number of people, and there aren't as many buses as there should be to cut down on route times.
The main problem, as it always seems to be, is money-specifically, state money for buses.
Low wealth counties like Bladen rely on every dime we can get for our schools. The state's somewhat eccentric, computer-assisted bus scheduling system-which is so far out of date that it apparently doesn't know rural buses travel ten miles an hour faster than their urban cousins-placed children getting on buses at times that would have made our hardscrabble farming ancestors take a step back, and would have awakened many chickens.
Thankfully, Bladen school officials got that confusion cleared up. They are to be praised for moving quickly to correct what was wrong and revise what was possible to change.
Still, some of our children have to get on a school bus early, early, and get off late, late.
As the school year begins, the bus routes are essentially the same as they were last year, but subtle changes will come as the year progresses. That's normal. Families move in and out of school districts, and provisions for public transport of their children to schools must be made.
In the midst of all the talk about numbers, buses, minute-by-minute scheduling, and funding, be it state or local, we worry most about the children.
Any parent-and many non-parents-know children need at least four basic things in their lives: proper nutrition, enough sleep, quality time with family, and play time. A deficiency in any of these areas can cause ramifications that society may later have to pay for, either through less productivity or in the worst case, a dropout who turns to a life of crime.
If excessive time is spent riding on a bus, something else goes lacking. Sometimes it's sleep, sometimes it's play time, and often, it's family time. No matter how good the bus driver (and we've heard some stories of saints), he or she cannot replace the average Mom and Dad for positive role models.
The size of our county is not going to change, and we're not likely to have a population explosion that will put schools and houses closer together. So, it seems we are going to have to live with long school bus routes, started early and ended late. We can at least continue to beg the state for more buses and more money to operate them. We encourage everybody-public officials and general public alike-to do just that. More buses, with the accompanying money to gas, drive, and fix them, would help.
If children don't get the stimulation-and the rest time-they need, no efficiency rating or school bus schedule ever invented can save us from a generation of children who view school as 60 percent bus, 40 percent books, and 100 percent frustration.